EU Withdrawal Bill: MPs must rise above party politics and vote for human rights
Tomorrow MPs will vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill – their last chance to make sure their constituents don’t end up with fewer rights after Brexit.
They have a choice. They can overturn changes made by the Lords in April – or they can enshrine these changes in law, making sure we bring home all the rights and equality protections we gained from the European Union.
I’m a Conservative Party member – but on this MPs must rise above tribalism, party politics, and leave versus remain. This is about keeping protections that have made life fairer, safer and more equal for people all over the UK – and protections nobody voted to lose.
I should know. Nearly a year ago, the UK’s highest court ruled the Government had to close a deeply unfair loophole in the Equality Act that let my employer refuse to pay my full pension to my husband if I died – solely because we’re a same-sex couple.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this get-out for a few mean employers was discriminatory and breached EU equality laws. They struck it down – a huge step forward for basic fairness and decency.
I’d been fighting for equal pension rights for 11 years – and the Government had fought me all the way.
So the first thing I asked for after the judgment was a commitment from the Prime Minister that this ruling would stand after Brexit. Without that, I couldn’t be sure the justice I seemed to have achieved would last.
A year on, ministers seem determined to strip us of the very equality protections that came to my rescue.
The Government branded the Withdrawal Bill a great copy-and-paste exercise – bringing EU laws home and only changing technical details that would be irrelevant after we leave.
In Brexit secretary David Davis’s words, it was supposed to make sure “the same rules and laws will apply the day after exit as before”.
In fact they have singled out certain laws that they refuse to bring home – the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU law general principles, which enshrine our right to equality.
In April, the House of Lords saw this opportunistic move for what it was and added what Liberty, Amnesty International and Stonewall have called a ‘people’s clause’ to the Bill – a set of crucial amendments to make sure we keep our rights after Brexit.
They voted to keep the general principles and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and they rejected attempts to grant ministers unprecedented powers to rewrite our laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
My situation shows all too clearly why we need those protections in the black and white letter of the law.
I worked for the chemicals giant Innospec for more than 20 years, making the same pension contributions as my heterosexual colleagues. But after I retired I discovered the company would pay my husband just a few hundred pounds a year on my death.
We've been together since 1993. We registered for a civil partnership on the first day it was legally possible to do so, and later converted it into a marriage.
Innospec’s approach, enabled by the archaic Equality Act loophole, meant that – had I divorced my husband and married the first woman I met – she would have received around £50,000 a year for the rest of her life. It seemed pretty clear to me that this was discrimination, pure and simple. But instead of closing the loophole, the Government fought me all the way to the highest court in the land. And ultimately it was because of the EU general principles that the Supreme Court could end this glaring inequality.
I’m just one of many who have benefited from the protections afforded by the EU. As a backbencher, David Davis himself used the right to digital privacy enshrined in the Charter in his successful legal challenge to government surveillance.
Scrapping the general principles and the Charter is completely unnecessary. They aren’t an obstacle to implementing Brexit. This is a political decision built on hostility to human rights because they inconvenience the powerful.
The Lords’ amendments aren’t radical proposals. They’re simply about keeping the same protections against discrimination and the same checks on power that we have now.
As I know all too well, it’s not easy to win equal rights in the face of big business and the Government. If ministers are allowed to chip away at the laws that protect us, we might never get them back.
It’s time for MPs to stand up for the people they represent. They must vote for human rights, for equality and for democracy tomorrow.
Write to your MP and tell them to vote for human rights.